LONDON — In 2000 Mark Francis and Jay Jopling curated an experimental exhibition project with a simple formula: one exhibition per week for 50 weeks. Francis had been drawn to London by its vibrant art scene, but felt that artists didn’t have venues outside the gallery and museum systems, so he raised some money and found a suitable venue in a small space in Soho. In short order he managed to establish fig-1, now considered an almost mythical moment for the city’s contemporary art scene. During that year, with only a few days’ notice between shows, fig-1 featured works by giants like Richard Hamilton — whose two exhibitions book-ended the program — and Bridget Riley, next to then-unknown artists including Jeremy Deller and Wolfgang Tillmans.
Under the programmatic principle of freedom from institutional and commercial imperatives, the artists who took part in fig-1 were free to experiment and produce works virtually free of compromise. Though some exhibitions were less successful than others because of the breakneck schedule and the very experimental nature of the program, the series of shows made possible unprecedented collaborations — like the powerful alliance of Liam Gillick, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno and Rirkrit Tiravanija — and original projects by designer Philip Treacy and writer Will Self.
Fig-1 left such an impression on London’s art public, it was almost inevitable that the concept would be revived. Its new edition, fig-2, is the natural continuation of a curatorial project that needs no updating, even though things have changed over last 15 years. London’s art scene is now indissolubly tied to museum and institutions didn’t even exist back in 2000 — that was the year Tate Modern opened, and the Frieze Art Fair launched in 2003. It was high time for a sequel to Francis and Jopling’s project.
When London-based independent curator Fatoş Üstek heard about the plans of a revival of fig-1, she immediately found the idea exciting. “I received an email from Mark Francis and, following fast-paced interviews, I was invited to curate fig-2,” she told Hyperallergic. “The picture of the year 2000 in London is extremely different to the picture we are experiencing now. Fig-2 today means a possibility to embrace the aesthetic and critical currencies of our times, which will be visible in each and every exhibition of fig-2 as well as the project as a whole.” She had just returned from the 10th Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, where she served as an associate curator, when fig-2 launched.
Üstek has very precise ideas about her aim as a curator and about the meaning of fig-2.
“I aim to question the curatorial and artistic production today that oscillates between theory-informed shows and mega art world events,” she said. “This might lead us toward a lengthy conversation on what it really means to commission 50 projects, to host each project for a week at a singular venue, to curate a demanding sequence of exhibitions, to manage an image of a project while allowing experimentation and investigation at large.”
One of the things that has changed since 2000 is that the location of the original fig-1 has been demolished, so fig-2 found a host in the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). The museum made available the unpretentious ICA Studio space, not so far from Francis’s original venue, which suits the concept of the project very well.
Going about financing such a project today is also a very different undertaking. In 2000, Francis had to personally raise the money necessary to launch fig-1, while fig-2 is far better supported and counts on a well-developed base of private supporters. Outset Contemporary Art Fund, an independent philanthropic organization that has been funding some very high-quality projects in London and abroad since 2003, initiated and made the project possible. The program is also supported by a luxury outlet shopping center, which will host four projects by fig-2 artists, and by the auction house Phillips.
Fig-2 opened at the beginning of January with an exhibition of Laura Eldret’s works based on her research on the rug makers of a pueblo in Mexico. Eldret’s project, which is still in progress, will culminate in a final work to be shown in the 50th week of ﬁg-2, in keeping with the original’s format of allocating to the same artist the first and last weeks of the series. Charles Avery presented an installation and moving images for the second show, and in the third week Hiraki Sawa took over the space with a black-and-white film accompanied by a score composed by Dale Berning and Ute Kanngiesser. In the sixth week, Young In Hong staged the striking performance “In her Dream,” which combined the elegant atmosphere of a a dinner party with Korean shaman music.
Üstek is determined to accommodate the artists’ needs while following her curatorial choices. Careful not to reveal too much about the artists she has selected, she made me understand she’s lining up a program of multidisciplinary exhibitions.
“It will be a wide range of artistic practices and positions,” she said. “I am inviting artists whose practice I believe in and like to support. Additionally, I am looking into what is happening today in the fields of literature, design, architecture, and fashion. For me, cross disciplinary practice goes beyond the domain of arts, drawing influences from various other disciplines such as neuroscience, quantum physics, mathematics, humanities, etc. Fig-2 will be hosting projects that introduce collisions to the idea of virtual and real, manifesting themselves as digital art, performance, and at times as painting.”
So far, the program has met the high expectations set by its predecessor. Even if it’s too early to make an overall judgement, the shows are well organized and the projects leave the public curious to explore more of each artists’ practice, which is always an achievement. Londoners have another 38 exhibitions to look forward to.
fig-2 opens at the ICA Studio (The Mall, London) every Monday, 6–8pm, and continues Tuesday–Sunday, 11am–6pm. Information on the following week’s exhibition is released every Wednesday on the fig-2 website and via its newsletter.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.